Why Parenting Advice Fails Neurodivergent Kids
Plus, resources that could actually help.
A few months ago in a Substack thread, I asked my subscribers for examples of parenting advice they questioned. One mom expressed her frustration that so much parenting advice directed at neurotypical kids doesn’t come with the caveat that it won’t help all kids, and I made a note to revisit the topic in the future.
Well, here we are! For my newsletter today, I want to answer a few related questions: Why does so much standard parenting advice fail neurodivergent kids? How can parents tell if the advice they’re getting probably won’t serve their kids’ needs? And what kinds of resources may actually be helpful?
For insight, I reached out to two wonderful experts. The first was educator, consultant and social worker Franki Bagdade, who specializes in supporting neurodivergent kids and wrote the book I Love My Kids, But Don’t Always Like Them: Expert Advice for Parents of Challenging Children. I also interviewed parenting activist Debbie Reber, the founder of Tilt Parenting and author of Differently Wired: A Parent’s Guide to Raising an Atypical Child with Confidence and Hope.
I interviewed Bagdade and Reber separately, but I asked them many of the same questions, and their answers complement each other beautifully — so I’m running today’s newsletter as a kind of three-person Q&A, if that makes sense. It’s been edited for length and clarity. Don’t miss the end, where they share lots of great resources.
Okay, let’s cut to the chase. Why does so much parenting advice fail neurodivergent kids?
Franki Bagdade: By the time parents get to me, they’re like, “Okay, we've read 1-2-3 Magic and Parenting with Love and Logic, and we've tried gentle parenting.” They’ve usually tried so many things, which honestly just adds to that feeling of failure — like, what's wrong with my kid? It doesn't lend itself well to a strength-based approach and really getting to know your child, because you're just trying to figure out why you're not having success. It really can put you in a dark place.
There's lots of good content out there that has research behind it and years of experience — but taking a program and following it step-by-step really takes away the ability to get to know your child and what they need individually. And I think that's so important for every kid, but when you're also dealing with a child with a disability, it becomes even more important because they're not necessarily following the typical trajectory of development. If you're taking something that is the “best” program out there for 9- and 10-year-olds, it may not make sense for your 9- and 10-year-old who has ADHD or autism or something in that neurodivergence umbrella.
Debbie Reber: The majority of parenting advice assumes a child is neurotypical. So it's coming from this baseline of “There is normal, and then there's everybody else.” There's this idea that we can shape and mold our child to be more compliant, with a focus, in my experience, on behavior that pleases us as parents or is deemed more acceptable out in the world. And the problem with that for parents of neurodivergent kids is that most of the time, when these children's needs are not being met in an environment, that shows up as what would look from the outside like a behavioral problem. But really, it's because their nervous system is triggered, or because they don't have the capacity or ability to emotionally regulate in that environment. And so, it's that divide of “your child should behave better” or “if your child isn't showing up in these ways, then there's something wrong with your child.” That just makes parents feel like big fat failures, because all that advice is really discrediting, or just not even acknowledging, the reality of who our kids are and what we're experiencing as parents.
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